The Meaning Behind the Right to Counsel

The Meaning Behind the Right to Counsel

Whether you know from a TV show or run-in with the police, you may be familiar with the right to counsel. You probably know that this applies in a criminal case. It's also likely you think it means you have the right to be represented by a lawyer. Yet, the right to counsel goes a lot deeper than that. Take some time to learn the intricacies of this constitutional guarantee; you may need to use it one day!

Roots in the Sixth Amendment

As noted above, the right to counsel is a constitutional right. It's basis is in the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This amendment states that "the accused shall enjoy...the assistance of counsel for his defence." In criminal law, this means that a person accused of a crime (whether it be a misdemeanor or felony) has the right to representation by an attorney during the course of the case. Specifically, a defendant is entitled to representation at all critical stages of the criminal prosecution. This includes the time immediately after an arrest, and through an appeal. Every defendant should have an experienced lawyer to assist them in preparing a defense.

Another Facet of the Sixth Amendment

The Sixth Amendment supports the right to an attorney by providing one to indigent clients. This has been the case since 1963. In that year, the Supreme Court decided a seminal case called Gideon v. Wainwright. The justices in this case determined that a person who could not afford an attorney was essentially denied his Sixth Amendment right. Therefore, in order to uphold the spirit of the constitution, the state is required to provide an attorney to handle the representation. The court will appoint these attorneys if a defendant's low-income status can be verified.

One question that usually comes up in this scenario is why pay to hire an attorney? Some people think it is totally unnecessary to look for an experienced lawyer in the criminal law field. The general rule of thumb is that if you can afford to hire a private attorney, you should do so. Appointed attorneys often have large caseloads to deal with and limited resources. Although all attorneys are presumed to be competent, a private attorney is better suited to give special attention to your case. Either way, you'll be exercising your Sixth Amendment right by having an attorney represent you.

How Long Does the Right Last?

As stated, the right to counsel is in effect from the moment of the arrest to some post-conviction procedures. However, it does not last indefinitely. A person who goes through a trial and is convicted has the right to an attorney for the first appeal. Other proceedings, such as parole hearings, clemency requests or habeas corpus petitions do not have a right to counsel. In such cases, it may be necessary to hire an experienced lawyer.

If you need assistance with a criminal law matter in Utah, contact Spencer & Jensen PLLC. Remember, it is important to work with an attorney as soon as you are accused of a crime.

Tags: criminal law, right to councel, sixth amendment

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